Michelle Harvey tearfully recounted her toddler's fight with cancer, which came at the same time her husband Brian (right) was locked out of his job at National Grid. [Photo: Sam Doran/SHNS]

With locked out National Grid workers facing the loss of unemployment benefits in January, the House on Thursday amended, passed and sent to the Senate a potentially precedent-setting bill (H 4988) calling for the state to set up benefits for any employee locked out in a labor dispute.

Under the bill, which lawmakers hope will force an end to the National Grid lockout and a contract agreement with natural gas workers, the state labor and workforce development secretary would be required to establish “a benefit program for any individual who is involuntarily unemployed during the period of the negotiation of a collective bargaining contract because of an employer’s lockout.”

Under the bill, all program costs would be assessed on the employer that has locked out its employees, and the bill precludes an employer from passing on costs of the program to ratepayers.

The House adopted two amendments sponsored by Republican Leader Brad Jones. The first amendment exempts municipal light and gas plants from the proposed law, and the second amendment sunsets the entire proposed law on Jan. 1, 2023.

The bill now moves to the Senate, which met briefly Thursday and adjourned until Monday.

National Grid and representatives of its locked out gas workers are scheduled for more contract talks on Friday. Both sides have repeatedly emerged from previous unsuccessful contract talks expressing disappointment with the other side.

More than 1,200 National Grid employees have been locked out of their jobs since late and for many of them, their unemployment benefits are scheduled to run out in January.

“I’m glad that the House advanced a bill today to create a program to extend the benefits for these workers. In addition to providing relief and security to these workers and their families, we built in protections for taxpayers and ratepayers – assuring that the cost of these benefits fall solely to the employer responsible for the lockout,” House Speaker Robert DeLeo said in a statement released by his office after Thursday’s session.

Bill to Pressure National Grid Over Lockout Clears House

by State House News Service time to read: 1 min